MUKANYA @ 75: Celebrating the Socio-economic justice activist in Thomas Mapfumo

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Legendary Thomas Tafirenyika Mapfumo is a doyen of socio-economic justice. A view to the contrary will be nothing short of being economic with the truth. The lion of Zimbabwe as he is affectionately known in music circles, has been influential in the socio-economic and political dispensation of Africa in general and Zimbabwe in specification.

The dread-locked superstar churns hits in local language familiar with the local people, calling a spade a spade, castigating the economic rot and the corruption cancer which continues to bedevil this economy.

A close introspection into his yester-year albums such as Varomombo kuvarombo of 1989, Afro-Chimurenga of 1996 ,Chimurenga Rebel of 1992 and Dangerzone in 2015 suggests that he might be a seasoned student of Marxist socialist philosophy, or rather, modern socialism with of course, necessary modifications. 

Mukanya has been at the receiving end of victimization and human rights violation dating back to 1979 when he was imprisoned by the Smith regime without charges being preferred against him. He was only released after a 3-month languishing stint in the ‘college’. After his release, he continued his activism and lobbying for a black majority government instead of the discriminatory white minority rule.

Once a darling of the ruling party Zanu-Pf to the effect that, he graced the Independence Celebration as a curtain raiser for Jamaican icon Robert Nesta Marley, things twisted ends when the once liberational struggle party became the Siamese twin of the system they were once against. As a principled talented musician with a dignified personal conviction, Mukanya did not capitulate, rather he chose to expose the corruption that characterized Robert Mugabe’s government, flagrant human rights abuses and a negation of democracy which he viewed as the tenets of the struggle for liberation. Mapfumo’s plight must be a direct consequence of disillusionment which characterizes the ordinary Zimbabwean. It is a sour case of unfulfilled dreams, massive unemployment and poverty-stricken households.

 He is notorious for his lyrical lambasting of the regime when he sang” zvamaiti munozvigona, nhasi uno tiripi? matiradzanenzara, matishayisa mabasa, matirasisa varume…matakadyakare haanyaradzi mwana…hamunyare vakomana..hamunyarevasikana”.  A holistic analysis of his qualified  lyrical prowessand influential delivery has not spared him from politically motivated victimization in the hands of the black government which he once advocated for.

He was, at one point, framed by the then president of Zimbabwe, the late R.G Mugabe to the effect that, he had to run for his dear life, seeking asylum in the comfort of the United States of America, in Oregon. He stayed there for over three decades, only to come back after Mugabe’s overthrowal and returned again after a series of classic ,much-awaited performances.

During his stay in the foreign land, he did not stop churning hits, exposing corruption, a catastrophic social governance, unnecessary expenditure by the government in the DRC civil war of 1998 as well as the fast track land reform program.

However, just like any mortal Mukanaya is not free from controversy. Some ruling party fanatics viewed his exile as selling out, a move they think was necessitated in order to tarnish the image of the then government. The State press took him for nothing short of a blue-eyed runner boy and musical propagandist on a mission of ‘regime change’. The regime apologetics also cited his song America as a praise and worshipsong for the West, motivated by the love for donor funding and the luring comfort of Miami streets.

To this, Thomas hearkened and exonerated himself in the song Ndofarira Zimbabwe where he confessed that he is a true patriot, he loves Zimbabwe ,he is never a sellout and only wishes for the prosperity of his nation. This can be well substantiated since he once rallied with the ruling party during the liberation struggle and even got persecuted for that. It suffices to mention that The Lion of Zimbabwe was just being truthful, exposing the economic rot and the pulpable abuse of human rights, amongst which is the right to vote, right to life and right to a dignified living. All these, post 1989, after assuming the executive presidency in 1986, Mugabe was failing to deliver to the optimistic masses who had believed in his charm and intelligence. 

Mukanya is of the opium that, unity is key and answer to all the various societal, economic and political nemesis that Africa is at the mercy of. To a greater extent, he qualifies in the league of pan-Africanists. The song vanhu vatema is the mirror which reflects this idea of his concerning the African continent. 

Till date, the legend yearns for progressive reforms, good economic governance and clean political dynamics. On this day, today , the iconic Chimurenga music proponent turns 75. He was born on the 3rd of July in 1945in the farming town of Marondera. We celebrate his damning career which he took upon himself to be the voice of the voiceless ,calling upon the government of the day to implement socio-economic and political reforms which are pro-povo. A happy birthday Thomas Tafirenyika Gandanga ’Mukanya’ Mapfumo. MERCI The Lion of Zimbabwe!  

Did you know?

Mukanya does not sing love songs because they are easily susceptible to obscene and uncouth lyrical content . In a radio interview he came clear on his stance saying,” All you need when you get into the bedroom…You’ve got a wife…You do it. You don’t have to sing about it”

Munashe O’brian Gutu is a law student at the University of Zimbabwe Faculty of Law. He writes in his own capacity. He can be contacted on twitter and Instagram @kingsman_zw email; [contact 0774642413] follow his Facebook page Human Rights and the Law with Munashe O Gutu or website:

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